University of Birmingham Professor Bob Stone is working on creating virtual reconstructions of well-known places of natural beauty from all over the world. ©naturevideo, www.nature.com/nature

Walking was a favored activity among many of our nation’s greatest nature writers and thinkers—Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Albert Einstein, to name just a few—relied on daily strolls to enhance their creativity and aid their thought processes. Most of them preferred to amble in as rural a setting as possible.

In recent years, several research studies have corroborated what those great philosophers seemed to know intuitively: that time spent in natural environments offers several health benefits, including lowering the risk for heart disease and even lessening the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. But what if you are physically unable to take a walk outside, due to limited mobility or hospital confinement?

Professor Robert Stone, chair of Interactive Multimedia Systems at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, thinks he may have a solution for those who may not be able to perambulate in the great outdoors. For the past few years, he has been working on creating computer simulations that will take users on interactive walks through nature so that anyone can get outside—virtually—at any time.

For example, using Stone’s software, people will virtually be able to walk along a coastal beach and footpath, sit down on the sand, listen to the waves and birdsong, watch the sunrise and sunset and—soon, hopefully—even experience the smells of the seascape. Professor Stone’s goal is that his virtual walks will give people some of the same health benefits that walks through nature in the real world do.

Watch the video below. In it, Daniel Cressey, a London-based reporter for the weekly science journal Nature, takes a trip to the University of Birmingham for a walk through one of Professor Stone’s virtual worlds. While Cressey reports that he does feel surprisingly relaxed after his virtual walk, it still is not a perfect substitute for the real thing—yet, anyway.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy